What’s Your Style? The Science, Art, and Zen Approaches to Business

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / January 24, 2014


The Professor. The Poet. The Prophet. Which management style will inspire your employees and fulfill your long-term goals as your venture grows?

While it might be an oversimplification to consider only three management styles, many leaders gravitate toward these stereotypes, and their organizational models follow suit. Each approach has benefits that can develop an effective, long-lasting company. Your choice of approach will shape your company’s structure and success.

The Science of Success

The scientific approach uses measurement and feedback to justify change. Small variations with limited risk of failure propel this style. As a result, this approach works well where success isn’t well-defined, but failure is clearly marked (which is usually the case in, say, website redesigns). Each step is similar to an experiment in which data is collected and analyzed.

This approach excels in situations in which a single optimization can reap small dividends repeatedly, such as correcting a step in the manufacturing process or making a slight alteration to a website to improve its conversion rate. Many marketing and sales initiatives are supported by this more specific, data-driven approach.

Imagine a business that sells eye makeup and wants to expand its market. The company might run an ad on its site that links to a full-page spread targeting five products promoted primarily through a Pinterest campaign. It’s a small step — far from revolutionary — but it can be measured and evaluated accurately and efficiently.

After the campaign runs for two weeks, three of the five target products have an 8 percent rise in sales compared to a 2 percent average over all products. The data suggests Pinterest advertising is a good idea. It’s not definitive, but it should be enough to justify a larger Pinterest promotion. And it begs a further question: Is there a reason the other two products didn’t sell better?

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The success of small changes leads to larger initiatives. The scientific approach is based on calculation and risk assessment. Continuous improvement, based on logical ideas from team effort, is stressed. Nobody walks away the hero, but the company steadily and reliably improves its performance.

The Art of Attainment

The art, or craft, in this philosophy stems from a mentor structure. Talented, insightful mentors train, evaluate, and gain ideas from the lower ranks in the organization. Employees are trained and groomed for higher positions. A defined hierarchy rules and regulates change.

Changes in these structures tend to be packaged as campaigns or projects, and they often follow rigorous procedures. Coordination and negotiation between departments is expected. Success is frequently defined up front, along with time and resource budgets. Most large companies employ this overall strategy in terms of employee recognition and promotion. Ideas are passed up the ranks, as is credit. An individual employee’s desire to climb the ladder benefits the company’s overall performance.

In this scenario, if a new employee of an eye makeup business had an idea to optimize conversions, she’d have to find a superior to champion the idea. It would then move up the ranks until it landed with a manager who had enough influence to give the idea the green light. The originator of the idea might be considered for a promotion, but the manager would receive most of the praise (or blame, if the idea fell flat).

The Tao of Triumph

The Zen approach, or following “The Way,” is based less on process and more on purpose. Rather than a set of best practices implemented by a mentor, it’s based on a philosophy revealed to a prophet. This overarching revelation determines the course of action.

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Well-known examples of this approach include Dell, Apple, and TOMS. A visionary leader develops a mission for the business. New ideas and practices need to be solid investments and work to validate the vision. Change relies on value consistency, rather than just the bottom line. Of course, any failed idea can be perceived as an affront to the vision, and that idea’s originator can fall from prodigy to pariah.

To continue with the eye makeup example, a new product or design element would need to align with the core values that inspired the founder to enter the industry. Is the makeup an artistic statement? Is it based on the founder’s legacy as a rodeo clown? Any number of things could serve as the guiding force of the business. Ultimately, the visionary leader decides if the invention fits the image.

From Principle to Practice

In practice, most businesses combine elements of all three management styles. These strategies reflect a union of core ideas:

  • Have a clear vision and stick to it. If a change doesn’t align with that vision, discard it.
  • Invest in a mentor program. Ensure new hires can learn from veterans; verify leaders are training their future replacements.
  • Optimize processes. Measure your outcomes in terms of people, money, and time.
  • Change is better than stagnation, but major, unjustified changes can cause a business to plummet. Try to change as little as you can as often as you can.

The science, art, and Zen methods of management all offer important insights in managing change and development. The precision of data, the guidance of mentors, and the vision of a leader can all strengthen and focus employee efforts. By uniting authority and accountability under the umbrella of pragmatism, businesses can embrace challenge and change.

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Michael Doberenz is the co-founder and Chief Data Scientist of EchoVantage, a company that delivers a new approach to marketing analytics. Trained as a classical mathematician with a master’s degree focused on the actuarial sciences, Michael leverages his over 10 years of software development experience producing high-load, high-availability applications in developing the next generation of analytics platforms and services. Connect with Mike on Twitter and Google+.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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